Paul "Hank" Preston:
(Jukka Joutsi, Finland * latest additions: 14.4.2020)

Paul "Hank" Preston:

Paul Hank Preston (far right) and his band * (photo from Judie Lee Fizer * 14.4.2020, thanks!).

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Paul "Hank" Preston (March, 2003):
Hi Jukka, I thought you would find this interesting. I was checking Kenny Roberts's site and was going though his guest book listing. I saw the name of a musician that I knew in New Hampshire back around 1979. He was a piano player and played in a band for my friend Duke. I e-mailed him and he and I discussed different musicians we both knew. He is still playing. He plays summer jobs with Sleepy Willet. Sleepy used to play fiddle for Hal "Lone Pine' in the 1950's.
It is a small world web-wise. I saw your site mentioning Kenny Roberts. I contact Kenny and check out his site and now I locate Ronnie through Kenny's site. It is so amazing.

In June of 1964, the All Star Jamboree show began in Hartland, Vermont at the Hartland Fairgrounds.
This was an outdoor country show presenting big-name acts touring the area as well as local bands. WVTR radio disc jockey, "Uncle John" Brunnel managed this show and also played fiddle in his band known as "Uncle John's Country All-Stars", which also included Buddy Jones along with Bob and Gracie French, well-known bluegrass musicians.
Uncle John asked that Hank's band serve as the opening act for those shows.
Also appearing there was "Duke and his Swingbillies", who had a television show over WMTW-TV, Poland Springs, Maine.

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Paul "Hank" Preston (21st January, 2004):
Hi Jukka. Thank you very much for the e-mail stating that you had heard from Judy Lee.
Duke was a personal friend of mine and I also had met Judy in the summer of 1964. (If my memory serves me correctly, it was 1964).
Duke, Judy Lee and the Swing- billies were playing on an outdoor Sunday music show held at the Hartland, Vermont Fair grounds, in Hartland, Vt.
Duke and the Swingbillies appeared there every Sunday.
My band, "Hank Preston and The Stony Mountain Drifters" were the opening act there for several weeks when the show first started up. My wife, Doris played the upright bass (bluegrass style bass) in the band and one day Judy asked Doris if she would like to play her Fender Electric bass as it would be easier on her fingers. Doris was very pleased that Judy asked her, but at that time, Doris hadn't learned to play electric bass, so she declined the offer. It is odd, just recently, she and I were talking about those shows and she mentioned about the electric bass and how she didn't know how to play it.
About a year after this show, I worked several playing engagements with Pete Ross, Duke's accordian player. We played at the Marconi Club in White River Jct., Vt. Pete was an amazing player.
I am so pleased to hear that Judy found your site and my e-mail. When Duke had his lounge in Belmont, New Hampshire, I played steel guitar for him there one afternoon and backed up Bob Alston. He is another great entertainer from Maine.
I have a 8x10 photo of Duke, Judy and The Swingbillies that was their promotional photo at that time and will mail you a copy. Judy was a very good singer and bass player.
Again, thank you and keep up the good work with your website.
Your musicial friend in the U.S.A. * Paul "Hank" Preston

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(Paul "Hank" Preston * 23rd January, 2004):
Hi Jukka:
Thank you so much for forwarding the letters to me. It was very thoughtful of you.
I am so pleased that a number of our new England entertainers or their families are discovering your GREAT SITE.
I will try to get in touch with Judy Lea. I remember her so well. I was surprised that she said the Kurt Dilly played for Duke. Kirk was a very good lead guitar player in the 60's played for Doc Williams and "the Border Riders".

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Our friend Hank Preston wrote about Pete Ross (who was playing accordion in "Duke & The Swingbillies"-band):

Hi Jukka (16th February, 2004):
Thank you very much for forwarding the messages to me. I still have trouble getting your site sometimes. This way I don't miss these very interesting letters.
I know Duke and the Swingbillies played many dances throughout the New England area and also in New York state and Canada. The letter mentioned Pete Ross on the accordian.
Pete was a fabulous accordian player. I first saw Pete Ross play and do a comedy act in 1955 or 1956. At that time he was playing for "Ernie Lindell and The Rhythm Ranch Gang." This band had come from New Yorks state where they had been very popular and they were doing a TV show over MWTW-TV- Poland Springs, Maine. Also known as the Mt. Washington TV as the station transmitter was a top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. It is the tallest mountain in the area so they used this mountain for the transmitter location.
After Duke gave up his TV band work, he got me a job playing bass for Pete Ross at the Marconi Club in White River Jct., Vt. We had a nice trio and played all types of music. We only played there a few weeks and then Pete had to give up the job as he lost his accordian and other equipment in a fire at a club in Augusta, Maine called "Jack's Place". I was very honored to have the opportunity to work with Pete.
Keep up the great work, Paul "Hank" Preston

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(Paul 'Hank' Preston, 15.7.2007):
Hi Jukka, Judy Lea Fizer forwarded me your articles. It was good to hear that Billy is still doing music. I didn't know him personally, but saw his perform many times. He was very good.
Hope you and your family are doing well. I am still playing country music here in Florida. As Always,Your Friend in the U.S.A, Paul "Hank" Preston

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Paul 'Hank' Preston (e-mail 15.11.2007):
Hi Jukka: Thanks for sending me your site. I was fun going through the articles and seeing the old photos.
I do have one memory I don't this I mentioned before. After Duke gave up the "Swingbillies" band and retied from TV shows, he had a band with Ronnie Chase on piano. Duke played bass and he had a good drummer. Ms. Gauthier mentioned this group in her letter. This band was called "Duke and The Country Cousins."
I used to play steel guitar on occasion on Friday nights with this band at the Mt. Whittaker Inn located in Center Ossipee, New Hampshire. It was a typical old New England inn that skiers would stay at while in the area to enjoy the great skiing conditions there. We played to a packed lounge there every time. Duke's band also played there on Saturday nights.
I also saw that Buzz Evans played for Duke on WCAX, Channel 3, Burlington, Vermont. Buzz was a young man at that time. I think this was in the mid 1950's. Not sure of the exact date. Buzz was a fine pedal steel player.
I think Duke also had a rhythm guitar player and vocalist called "Rockin" Jimmy Maynard. I think Jimmy worked in the band when they were on WCAX-TV. I remember seeing him at personal appearances and on TV.
I also recall "Hank DeCato" from New Hampshire appearing on TV with Duke on WMTW-TV in Poland Springs, Maine. Hank DeCato was billed as "The Gene Autry of New England" as he sang and yodled like Gene Autry. He even looked a lot like Gene.
Keep up the good work!!! Your friend in Florida, U.S.A. Paul "Hank" Preston

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(Hank Preston, 8.1.2010): Hi Jukka: Thank you for the e-mail. I am pleased Judie is doing music again. I want to thank you for the great job you have done with the articles about Duke and The Swingbillies. Duke spent many years entertaining throughout New England and Canada.
Duke told me one time that he had the opportunity to join tthe WWVA World's Original Jamboree broadcast every Saturday night the same as the Grand Ole Opry. He said he decided he perferred to stay in New England and was very successful with his shows.
Your friend in the U.S.A. - Paul "Hank" Preston.

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(Paul 'Hank' Preston, e-mail 21.10.2008):
Hi Jukka: I just finished reading the entire articles you have posted on Duke and the Swingbillies. Thank you so much for all the work you have put into this site.
It was so nice to see pictures and articles on "Vi" and "Lee". I remember when they were on TV with Duke and also saw them in person at his shows. They were very good.
Please keep up the GREAT JOB you are doing. It is so nice to see interest being shown in bands like "Duke and The Swingbillies".
I am currently playing rhythm guitar, vocals and dobro steel guitar in a local band known as "The Florida keys Band." We are basically country, but play a variety of music. It is hard to believe I am now 71 years old and still playing good old country music.
In April I also made a CD with a bluegrass friend of mine. We are known as "Ramblin" River" and the CD is titled "Ramblin' River Live at Hidden River".
One of the songs on this cd is a bluegrass song I wrote entitled "Grandpaw's Still". It was nice to finally made a professional recording after all these years in the music business.
Keep up the good work. Your friend in the U.S.A. Paul "Hank" Preston.

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(Hank Preston, 8.1.2010): Hi Jukka: Thank you for the e-mail. I am pleased Judie is doing music again. I want to thank you for the great job you have done with the articles about Duke and The Swingbillies. Duke spent many years entertaining throughout New England and Canada.
Duke told me one time that he had the opportunity to join tthe WWVA World's Original Jamboree broadcast every Saturday night the same as the Grand Ole Opry. He said he decided he perferred to stay in New England and was very successful with his shows.
Your friend in the U.S.A. - Paul "Hank" Preston.

Paul "Hank" Preston:

(Hillbilly Music, 2020): Paul Hank Preston's earliest memories of country and western music take him back to when he was about four years old, living on his family's dairy farm in Norwich, Vermont, where he was born. His family did the milking very early in the morning and they had a radio in the barn. Hank's brother, Roland, used to tune in the radio to popular country shows of that time in our area.
One of those popular artists then was "Georgia Mae, the Little Cowgirl with the Big White Guitar" on radio station WBZ, out of Boston, Massachussetts. The two brothers also listened to "The DownHomers" who were featured on WKNE from Keene, New Hampshire. Back then, "The DownHomers" featured "Yodeling" Kenny Roberts on their shows.

Another local favorite was Jimmy Packard. Jimmy was a teenager at this time and had a live radio show over WNBX, Springfield, Vermont. Jimmy lived in Wilder, Vermont and was extremely popular on the radio in that area back then.
In the early 1940's, the Preston family moved to West Lebanon, New Hampshire. The family continued to listen to country music broadcasts over the radio such as the Grand ole Opry and The World"s Original WWVA Jamboree, which aired from Wheeling, West Virginia.
When Hank was 10 years old, his parents bought him a ukelele. He took it upon himself to start learning cowboy and folk songs. On his sixteenth birthday, his mother and sister gave him his first guitar. It was a mail order guitar from the Spiegel catalog company. The guitar's tradename was "Old Kraftman" and was manufactured by the Kay Guitar Company.

Hank started taking guitar lessons from a Mr. Conrad Goodrich in Wilder, Vermont. Hank considered Mr. Goodrich was one of the finest stringed instrument teachers in New England. He studied with him for almost two years. However, because Mr. Goodrich did not care for country music, young Hank felt that he needed to branch out on his own and learn from the local musicians.
He wasn't the only family member to study with Mr. Goodrich. His sister, Helen Smith, also studied the mandolin and tenor banjo with him.
Hank was in high school when he formed his first country band. The band included His sister Helen on the mandolin, David Loomis on the autoharp, Jimmy Adams on the slide guitar, Carl Galfren with the accordion and Billy Poland was the lead vocalist. Hank played rhythm guitar and did vocals, too. The band was basically a bluegrass band patterned after Roy Acuff and his Smokey Mountain Boys, one of the popular Grand Ole Opry acts at the time. Due to various commitments, that band broke up soon after it was formed.

By the summer of 1954 and still in high school, he reorganized the band and they played their first dance job at the Grange Hall in Cornish, NH. This band was known as "Paul Preston and his White Mountaineers". It was while playing dances there that Goerge Holt, a friend of the family joined the band playing electric rhythm guitar and upright bass. George helped Paul to play country music the way the professionals played it. Under George's guidance and the addition of other musicians our band started to take form and popularity.
The band was being booked on local shows, benefits and dances. Paul learned to call square dances - almost a necessity then as square dancing was very popular in those days.
By this time, he felt he was quite capable of handling the band and hired various musicians. In his senior year, Shawn and Bill Gaudette came into the band. Shawn played the accordian while Bill played the harmonica. Paul's sister, Helen, changed from the mandolin to the tenor banjo. The band was an authentic "hillbilly music" band. This band stayed together from 1955 to May 1956.

But that type of music was losing popularity due to rock and roll music that was sweeping the air waves and capturing the attention of the younger listening audiences. Country music itself was also changing. It seemed the pedal steel guitar, lead guitar and fiddle was not the basis of a good country band.
At this time, Paul met lead guitarist, Leon Fournier who was to become a strong influence on Paul as well has his style of playing. Leon played single string lead on the guitar, but not only played country music, he also played rock and jazz swing music.
Leon asked me to join his group, "The Valley Boys". Besides Leon, Alan Bigelow played drums and did a great job singing Elvis's songs. Paul played rhythm guitar and did the country vocals.

The Valley Boys played every Saturday night at the American Legion in Lebanon, NH. They also worked as a backup band for a touring talent show. Their first show was in White River Junction, VT. The following week they played for the talent show in Windsor, VT. At this time, the show manager asked the band to go on the road with them as a regular part of their show. Paul was very pleased at the opportunity, but Leon and Alan both had good jobs and could not travel on the road. Paul had his first opportunity to become a road musician.
Playing in this band allowed Paul to do a good deal of practicing with Leon and helped him learn a variety of musical styles. Paul mentions he continued to use Leon's style of guitar playing throughout his musicial career.
Paul's musical career took another step in 1957 when he decided to start the original "Hank Preston and The Stony Mountain Drifters" band. This band included his wife, Doris "Bunny" Preston playing lead guitar. Bunny played in the style of Luther Perkins, who was Johhny Cash's lead guitar player. Willie Higgins played drums and Paul/Hank played rhythm guitar and covered the vocals.

Later, Ted Lee, a local teenager, joined their group as the featured vocalist and played the flat-top guitar. Ted's voice was a tenor and fit in well on the group's harmony singing. Ted did not have any band experience, but they felt he had great potential and worked with him to help him become a good performer. Their instincts proved them right as Ted was well accepted by their audiences and they were getting increasing numbers of show and dance bookings at this time.
However, tragedy struck the following year when Ted's father passed away. His Mother sent him to New York state to work for his brother there. But Ted continued his musical leanings and started playing guitar with his cousin, Louie Sargent. Louie was a professional guitarist and taught Ted considerable about lead guitar playing. In the fall, Ted returned home and showed Hank what he had learned. Hank and Bunny decided that Ted should be their lead guitar player while Doris took up playing the upright bass, which she perferred to the guitar.
For a number of years this band played throughout the Twin State valley area.

WVTR RADIO SHOW
White River Junction, Vt.

In the spring of 1964, "Hank Preston and The Stony Mountain Drifters" were featured on a Saturday morning live radio show. We appeared live on "Uncle John's Country Corner" radio program broadcast over WVTR, White River Junction, Vermont. The band at that time consisted of Ted Lee, my nephew Stanley Smith, Ralph Moody, my wife, Doris and myself. But having live bands on this station became a problem due to the fact that the radio station studios were small and there was not room to have so many musicians waiting to their shows. Besides Hank's band, "Sid Grose and The Country Harmony Boys" also played a live show there. After their contracts ran out, the station manager decided not to renew the contracts.
The band began to change with the expiration of the radio contract. Ted and Ralph left to form their own duo act. Ted Lee was replaced by Bob Morrison. Bob played guitar in the style like Don Rich, Buck Owens' lead guitarist. Bob also became their lead vocalist.

ALL STAR JAMBOREE
Hartland, Vermont

In June of 1964, the All Star Jamboree show began in Hartland, Vermont at the Hartland Fairgrounds. This was an outdoor country show presenting big-name acts touring the area as well as local bands. WVTR radio disc jockey, "Uncle John" Brunnel managed this show and also played fiddle in his band known as "Uncle John's Country All-Stars" which also included Buddy Jones along with Bob and Gracie French, well-known bluegrass musicians.
Uncle John asked that Hank's band serve as the opening act for those shows. Also appearing there was "Duke and his Swingbillies", who had a television show over WMTW-TV, Poland Springs, Maine.
One Sunday, bluegrass legend, Mac Wiseman was the guest artist. After his afternoon appearance, Hank visited with Mac about his career. He told how he had worked for Bill Monroe along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Mac explained he later decided to become a solo entertainer and for many years appeared alone.

While working on the All Star Jamboree, Hank met Jimmy Stephens from the WWVA Jamboree. Jimmy Stephens and his band "The New England Country Gentlemen" were a regular act on the WWVA Jamboree. Jimmy asked Hank if he was serious about a career playing country music. Hank told him he most certainly was. As a result, Jimmy asked if they would like to go to Wheeling and appear on his portion of the WWVA Jamboree. He explained that he wanted them to join him as his opening act and if they were received well on their Jamboree appearance, he would have his manager book the band to work personal appearances with him.
Hank was excited about the opportunity and presented the offer to the band at their next rehearsal. But Bob Morrison said he could not go onto the road as he was planning on getting married and did not want to be a road musician. As a result, Hank and the band chose to not take Jimmy Stephens' invitation. Shortly after this episode, Bob left the band and Hank quit playing on the All Star Jamboree. At this time, Hank was discouraged about playing music and was about to quit the business.
A friend of Hank's, Russell Williams asked him and Doris to come play with him at the 484 Steakhouse in White River Junction, Vermont. During their time with Mr. Williams, they went to the Lone Star Ranch in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire, one sunday afternoon. They arrived there a little late and Hank did not notice who was the featuerd artist of the day. During the jamboree portion of the ranch show, Doris and Hank sang a song that had been recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. After we finished and left the stage, Melba Montgomery came over to them and told them how much she had enjoyed hearing them do the song. She said that when she and George had recorded the song, the record company thought that it would be the "A" side; however, it turned out that the flip side, "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" became the hit.

Melba also remembered that they had been the opening act when she played the All Star Jamboree. The words of encouragement from Melba were what he needed to hear at this time, as he was still thinkong of giving up on his music efforts. On the way home from the ranch Hank told Russell and Doris. "If Melba thinks we are good, then I am going to keep on playing". He notes, it is amazing how events can affect our decisions.
Throughout the 1960's Hank continued to perform in bands and also put together another band. In 1969, Hank moved to Bellows Falls, Vermont. At this time he joined the "Norm LaFlam Trio". Norm played pedal steel and Alan Bridgeau played drums. Hank stayed with Norm for several years as they played personal appearances around southern Vermont.
In 1972, Hank moved to Loudon, NH due to a job change that also meant he couldn't keep up his musical leanings for a while. Then in the mid 1970's Don Colby contacted Hank and asked him to be a part of his band, "The Village Ramblers". Hank played steel and lead guitar for Don's band for about two years. The band regularly appeared at the Moose Club in Concord, NH and throughout sdouthern New Hampshire. Don finally disbanded the group and instead joined a popular group, "The Country Playboys".

In the early 1980's, Hank began playing steel guitar for Johnny Guitar. Johnny was a popular country singer in the area. Johnny had Leo Fortier playing drums in their trio. For two summer seasons they played in the White Mountains at the Mount Moosealauke Inn, located in Warren, NH. They also played many club dates.
They also appeared on the Circle 9 Big Red Barn Sunday afternoon jams. This show was run by Clyde Joy, TV personality who used to be on WMUR-TV, Manchester, NH.
In 1982, Hank formed his own band again, "The Westboro Express". This band was made up of Sonny Davis, rhythm guitar and vocals, Leo Fortier on drums, Larry Stimpson playing pedal steel and Hank played the electric bass. The band played numerous engagements throughout southern New Hampshire for about a year. Then Hank moved to Tampa, Florida.

He joined the Classic Country Music Association of America in Tampa. This club meets once a week and plays classic country music. It is a variety of musicians ranging from players who have worked on the Grand Ole Opry to regular local musicians like myself. Hank met Shirley Escribano at one of these jams in 2003. It rekindled some memories for Hank as he realized that Shirley used to appear at the Lone Star Ranch in New Hampshire. In theose days she was known as "Little Shirley".
Shirley had been well known in the 1960 and 70's throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. Shirley wanted to play in a band so Hank formed another group called "The Westboro Express" along with Louie Murray on the fiddle, Maurice Benjamin on drums and Doris playing bass. I played lead guitar and steel. We did a number of shows until Shirley's health took a turn for the worse. Shirley passed away in Apri1,2004. Hank chose not to continue the band at this time.

Hank then became a member of the "Nashville Legends" show band in September, 2004. The "Nashville Legends" is made up of legendary lead guitarist, Howard Photon, Nashville songwriter, Larry Kirby, Chance Chaulder, vocalist, Scott Caldwell playing drums and myself on the electric bass. At the time of this writing, we are currently taking bookings in the Tampa Bay area.

Timeline & Trivia Notes

Hank Preston's first band (unnamed)
Group Members:

Paul "Hank" Preston, rhythm guitar, vocals
Helen Preston, mandolin
David Loomis, autoharp
JImmy Adams, slide guitar
Carl Galfren, accordion
Billy Poland, lead vocalist

Hank Preston and his White Mountaineers
Group Members (circa 1955):

Paul "Hank" Preston
Helen "Honey" Smith
Bill Gaudette
Shawn Gaudette

The Valley Boys
Group Members:

Leon Fournier, guitar
ALan Bigelow, drums
Paul "Hank" Preston, rhythm guitar, vocals

Hank Preston and the Stony Mountain Drifters
Group Members (circa 1964):

Paul "Hank" Preston
Doris "Bunny" Preston
Ralph Moody
Bob Morrison
Ted Lee, guitar, vocals
Stanley Smith

Norm LaFlam Trio
Group Members (circa 1969):

Norm LaFlam, steel guitar
Alan Bridgeau, drums
Paul "Hank" Preston, guitar, vocals

The Westboro Express
Group Members (circa 1982)

Sonny Davis, rhythm guitar, vocals
Leo Fortier, drums
Larry Stimpson, pedal steel guitar
Paul "Hank" Preston, electric bass

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